Bulletproof Backup Plan

Continuing from 3-2-1 Backup for Photographers, we are going to design a “set it and forget it” backup plan consisting of:

  1. our computer
  2. an external hard drive
  3. a backup drive
  4. offsite backup

The workflow is simple. We use our computer to store and run programs that saves data to an external hard drive which is mirrored to a local external hard drive. The mirrored drive then gets backup and transported offsite either physically or by using an online backup service to complete the final fail-safe plan.

Disaster Scenario

Scenario 1: The external hard drive fails, we use the local mirrored drive as the new working drive and the replacement drive gets rebuilt as the new mirrored drive. Zero downtime.

Scenario 2: The drives are stolen or destroyed in a catastrophes. We restore from the offsite service using a seed drive.

Scenario 3: We delete an important file. Restore just that file from our offsite backup using their online tools.

Following a 3-2-1 backup plan and building our system around it will prevent these disaster scenario from happening.

Organizing where to store your files

Computer: Store any file that can be re-installed

  • Operating System
  • Program files
  • scratch disk, paging files or virtual memory

Your computer’s hard drive doesn’t have to be large but it does have to be fast. A smaller 250 GB solid state drive will yield a better performance than a 4TB 5400 rpm drive. You only need space for the operating system, program files and virtual memory used by your operating system and programs such as Photoshop. In the event of a hard drive failure and you DON’T have a backup system, you only lose time by having to re-install programs. With this in mind, files that don’t have to be re-installed to work such as program preferences, plugins, actions and presets should be stored on an external drive.

External Hard drive: Store any file that was created or can’t be replaced

  • Photos
  • Videos
  • Music
  • Documents
  • Presets or actions
  • Downloads
  • Cloud Storage (Dropbox, Google Drive, Adobe Cloud)

The computer’s hard drive is the brain, an external hard drive is the heart. The external hard drive should store any file that was created or can’t be replaced. For such an important role, we need to choose reliable hardware that will grow with us. Starting with a small 1TB drive can fill up fast and a 4TB drive sounds like a lot, but it doesn’t allow us room to grow.

Network Backup drive: Mirrored copy of your external drive

A network backup drive is ideal but an identical external drive will work. Remember, this is going to be the drive you will use in case your main external drive fails. We need to mirror or synchronize this drive not perform a backup. Most backup programs compress files and keep deleted files separate. That’s great for the next step but not for the local backup. SyncBack is great for mirroring and keeping both drives synchronized.

Offsite backup: Compressed version of your backup stored offsite with online access.

  • CrashPlan
  • Carbonite
  • Backblaze
  • Acronis TrueImage
  • Memeo AutoBackup
  • SpiderOak

There are many choices for online backups. Compare which company has the best features you’re looking for. If the price is right and they have great customer care, use them. Alan Henry from lifehacker wrote a great article on the Five Best Online Backup Services.

Depending on the amount of data you have, it may take months to back up. An alternative is seeding. Seeding is when the company sends you a hard drive and you copy your data sending it back to them. It’s faster but it may cost extra.

Simple solution: $136.00

Ideal for: Typical users, College Kids, my Dad. 1TB drives are plenty for word documents, music and cell phone photos. If using this setup with a Laptop, save $68.00 by using your internal drive as your main working drive. You have to be discipline and sync your drives plus backup to Dropbox or Google Drive. This setup isn’t Bulletproof but is better than nothing.

  • $ 0.00 Computer: work with the drive you have
  • $68.00 Main working drive: WD My Passport Ultra 1TB Portable External USB 3.0 Hard Drive
  • $68.00 Local mirrored drive: WD My Passport Ultra 1TB Portable External USB 3.0 Hard Drive
  • $ 0.00 Offsite: Built in software with WD Passport to Dropbox or Google Drive

Affordable solution on a budget: $423.00

Ideal for: Running a very small Home based business, Weekend photographers, Photographers getting started in the business. Photographers add $120.00 for the solid state drive. You’ll thank me later when editing in Photoshop or Lightroom. Adding a Network Attached Storage (NAS) such as Drobo 5N or Synology for about $499.00 to $599.00 allows your storage to grow as you grow.

  • $120.00 Computer: Samsung 840 EVO 250GB solid state drive
  • $109.00 Main working drive: WD My Passport Ultra 2TB Portable External USB 3.0 Hard Drive
  • $109.00 Local mirrored drive: WD My Passport Ultra 2TB Portable External USB 3.0 Hard Drive
  • $150.00 Offsite: CrashPlan with online access
  • $ 55.00 SyncBack

My personal bulletproof backup solution: $1363.00 base price

Ideal for: Professional photographers, Mission critical business where downtime is not an option, Users that want a storage solution to grow as they grow. I grew my 10TB system over the years.Currently I have four Seagate Desktop 3 TB HDD SATA 6 Gb/s NCQ 64MB Cache 7200 RPM in each Drobo. Each drive cost $102.00 bringing the total cost to $408.00 per unit adding $816.00 to the overall storage solution. The best part of this solution, Drobo takes the up front guess work out of determining the amount of capacity I require. I buy the capacity I need today, and when I need more storage, I simply replace my smallest drive with a larger one and immediately use that capacity in seconds.

  • $ 60.00 Computer: 120GB Samsung solid state drive
  • $599.00 Main work drive : 10TB Drobo 5D connected via usb 3
  • $499.00 Local mirrored drive : 10TB Drobo 5N connected to the network via ethernet
  • $150.00 Offsite: Crashplan with online access
  • $ 55.00 SyncBack

My reasoning

I purchased the Samsung solid state drive because of their reputation and at the time, the price was right. I use Seagate 7200 RPM hard drives for the same reason. 7200 RPM drives are recommended for faster performance. Drobo has been my choice for data storage for years. Several years ago I received a Drobo FS to evaluate. I fell in love with it and kept it. Since then, I have grown my storage needs around Drobo, upgrading from the FS to the 5D and 5N units. Drobos are self-healing, self-managing and even self-optimizing. Exactly what I need. I’ve had offers from other NAS companies to “try it, like it, keep it” over the years; a nice perk as a professional photographer and educator, but I choose to stay with Drobo.

I’m interested in sharing your thoughts on your current Bulletproof Backup Plan. If you have a unique storage question or problems, feel free to leave a comment below. By the same time next year, loss data should be a thing of the past.

Extra Resource & Links Mentioned